Should fantasy football managers trust any running back in this game? The Pittsburgh Steelers fantasy preview takes a look at a committee situation while the Houston Texans fantasy outlook dives into not only the disappointing start for Dameon Pierce, but also the lasting value of this suddenly high-volume passing attack.
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Pittsburgh Steelers at Houston Texans
- Spread: Steelers -3
- Total: 42
- Steelers implied points: 22.5
- Texans implied points: 19.5
Kenny Pickett: After completing 31 passes in the season opener, Pickett has totaled just 31 completions since, and that’s just not enough to fuel much in the way of upside. He’s thrown a 70-yard touchdown in consecutive weeks to elevate his fantasy box score to a degree, but the rushing production seems to be a thing of the past; without it, he’s off my radar as even a streamer.
C.J. Stroud: The rookie is averaging 8.6 yards per pass over the past two weeks and has completed over 63% of his passes in all three games to open his career. The “learn by fire” development plan of the Texans is a fantasy-friendly one, and as a three-point home underdog, the game script could very well have him airing it out again.
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There is value in volume, but the QB position is too deep for me to work Stroud into my top 15 in this spot. If you want exposure to this offense, I’d rather do it by way of the receivers.
Najee Harris: Harris went over 65 rushing yards just once in his first eight games last season, and he’s 0 for 3 to open 2023. Even worse? The role in the passing game is all but gone as this team looks to develop Pickett as a field stretcher.
As a rookie, Harris caught 74 balls, and we thought we had a three-down fantasy monster for years to come. We thought wrong. Last season, he saw only 53 targets, and so far this season, he is averaging one foot per target. Not one yard. One foot.
He held a 31-28 snap edge over Jaylen Warren in Week 3 as this treads dangerously close toward a full-blown committee where neither running back holds consistent value. The incumbent may have one more good shot to retain his role: Houston allowed a touchdown to J.K. Dobbins and Zack Moss while Travis Etienne lit them up for 138 yards last week.
Jaylen Warren: He has seen his touch count increase each week this season (8-10-11), and while his production has underwhelmed (3.2 yards per carry), the 16 targets are promising. He ran five more routes than Harris last week, adding a touch of upside to his profile that is valuable given that this ground game is, well, grounded.
Even in a plus matchup, I don’t have either ranked as an RB2 this week and have them separated by only a few spots in my positional ranks.
Dameon Pierce: He scored last week, and that play alone resulted in more fantasy points than he had in either of his first two games this season. That’s a start.
In his best fantasy game of the season, Pierce averaged 2.2 yards per carry and ranked second on his team in rushing yards. His next 12-yard gain this season will be his first, making him strictly a volume play (15.7 touches per game) in an offense that prefers to air it out.
Devin Singletary ran more routes than Pierce in Week 3, hinting that he could well be scripted out of games in which the undermanned Texans are behind. In Houston, I’m not sold that Pierce is the lead back much longer, and more importantly, I’m not even sold that the lead role in this backfield is all that valuable. I prefer both Steeler backs to Pierce in this matchup.
Diontae Johnson: Johnson is not eligible to return to action until after the Week 6 bye. Before being placed on IR, he was labeling himself as “day-to-day,” so it would stand to reason to think he can play in the Week 7 game against the Los Angeles Rams.
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The Steelers get the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans in the two weeks after that, a stretch of games that should see this passing game thrive.
George Pickens: The quantity of targets is strong with Johnson out, and with the top target against the Texans averaging 10 targets per game, there’s no reason to think that changes this weekend.
The quality and consistency of targets is another conversation. Pickens hauled in just four of 10 looks in Week 2, and last week he didn’t see a target over the final 22 minutes. The downside is evident, but given my confidence in his target volume and the lack of resistance shown by the Texans against top pass-catching options, Pickens checks in as a low-end WR2 or high-end Flex.
Nico Collins: His breakout season was put on hold last week in Jacksonville (two catches for 34 yards), but the upside he showed in the first two weeks (13 catches for 226 yards and a touchdown) is real. His athletic profile is one fantasy managers have been chasing since he was a third-round pick in 2021, and the time may finally be here.
*Steps up to to the podium, taps mic, clears throat*
Nico Collins Year 3 breakout szn?? pic.twitter.com/rCs9P1CnVN
— Mina Kimes (@minakimes) September 20, 2023
This is a high-volume passing attack motivated to see what their young quarterback can do, and Collins appears to be the alpha target earner on this offense. So what have other top targets done this season against the Steelers, you ask?
- Week 1: Brandon Aiyuk (eight catches, 129 yards, two TDs)
- Week 2: Amari Cooper (seven catches, 90 yards)
- Week 3: Davante Adams (13 catches, 172 yards, two TDs)
Maybe Collins isn’t on that level, but he is the featured option in an underdog role against a vulnerable secondary. Sign me up for a top-25 ranking this week!
Tank Dell: Dell doesn’t fit into the box of a consistent fantasy threat as neatly as Collins does, but with consecutive top-20 performances, he is certainly making a case to be taken seriously.
Last week, he capitalized on a broken coverage to rack up the points (68-yard touchdown), but he just as easily could have cashed in a long catch that ended on the 1-yard line.
He and Collins have eerily similar stat lines this season, with Dell relying more on the unsustainably big play. That’s why I have Collins some 15 spots higher, but both possess massive potential on a week-to-week basis. This week and moving forward, consider me a buyer of Collins as a top-30 player and willing to sell Dell at that price tag.
Robert Woods: Bobby Trees just doesn’t offer much per-target upside at this point in his career. We saw signs of decline during his final season with the Los Angeles Rams and last season in Tennessee, but the per-target production this season isn’t clearing the low bar we’ve established as the new normal.
- 2023: 0.96 points per target
- 2021-22: 1.21 points per target
Pat Freiermuth: We saw Patty Football score seven times as a rookie, so I believe that the ability to box out and earn targets in close is real, but with just nine targets earned this season, he’s too touchdown-dependent for my liking. A score lands you in the top 10 at the position almost any week, but without much yardage floor to fall back on, Freiermuth has fallen outside of my top 15 at the position both this week and moving forward.
Dalton Schultz: It’s time to let go. Schultz was a viable option in Dallas and looked legit posting a 78-808-8 stat line in 2021, but that’s in the past now. In a high-volume offense, he has managed just seven catches and 47 yards through three weeks. There is no reason to hold on here — join us in the TE streaming pool; the water is fine!
Should You Start Najee Harris or James Conner?
I don’t expect either of these backs to produce many (if any) highlight plays this week, but Conner’s edge in the touch department makes him the play. Harris is in a fine matchup, though I’m not 100% sure he is the running back who takes advantage of fit. Warren looms in Pittsburgh while Conner has nobody pushing him in Arizona.
Should You Start Tank Dell or DJ Moore?
I have my concerns about Dell sustaining fantasy value with time, but he plays in an offense that could attempt 12-15 more passes than Chicago does this week and that makes him the pick here.
Moore is the top receiver in Chicago – does it matter? Justin Fields looks lost throwing the ball right now and until that changes, he’s going to lose a lot of these one-vs-one calls for me.
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